Recently I was eating in one of my favourite Chinatown restaurants and who was next to me, but Clarissa Dickson-Wright. She had all sorts of dishes on her table that were uncommon for the average Brit to order; amongst them was stuffed bitter melon. Upon my dining companion enquiring what it was she had, she immediately offered us some. Hers were stuffed with fish and pork, in a thick black bean sauce. It was delicious, and it proved to me it was time to try it again.
Stuffed Bitter Melon in Black Bean Sauce
1 bitter melon
450gr minced pork, or half pork half raw prawn
3 shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated and chopped finely
1 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine
4 tsp light soy sauce
Large pinch of white pepper
1 tsp cornflour
For the sauce:
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1" of ginger, chopped finely
2 1/2 tbsp fermented black beans, chopped and mashed
250 mls chicken stock (I used half a cube)
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp cornflour, slaked
2 spring onions, sliced on the diagonal
Add the pork (and prawns, if using) to a bowl with the shiitake mushrooms, Shaoxing wine, soy sauce, cornflour and white pepper. Mix well so that it's all combined.
Slice the bitter melon into 1" rounds and cut out the pith carefully. Blanch in salted water and refresh. Stuff the pork mixture into the rounds carefully. It's best to overstuff them slightly, as the meat will shrink a little. Steam the melon for 15 - 20 mins. It's fine to do it in two batches, as they will get a quick braise to warm back up again.
Heat your wok up until it's slightly smoking and add some vegetable oil. Swirl it around the wok, then add the ginger and garlic and fry until fragrant. Add the black beans, and then the stock and the sugar. Carefully add the melon rounds back into the sauce and simmer for 2 minutes. Add the slaked cornflour to the mixture and simmer it further until it's thickened. Scatter with the spring onions, and serve with plain rice.
The initial blanching is said to get rid of some of the bitterness of the melon. The sugar also balances some of it out, but this dish certainly isn't for the faint-hearted.